Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I heart trains part deux

I was sitting in our home and I could hear the freight train horn and the sound of the diesel locomotives a few hundred metres away echoing along the Bow River valley. I was mentioning to Darlene that I love the sound of the train - it reminds me of my childhood home. I've already mentioned my love of trains. As I blogged in the other post, the town I grew up in was defined by the train service that ended in Deux Montagnes, but there was more to it than that.

The train line not only carried commuter trains, but freight as well. The tracks split our town basically right down the middle, then headed north into farmland. So needless to say, we could always hear the sound of the locomotive horn through most of the town. But there was a side spur that went off to the west almost as far as Oka. I recall walking that line heading west a lot. It wound through forest, past suburban back yards and on to a true vacation spot in Pointe Calumet. Walking this line was the quickest way to get to the beach at 'the Pointe' on foot (9km or 5.5 miles), although walking the train tracks isn't exactly efficient. Yet that's what I did - a lot. That west spur was eventually closed and converted and expanded into a paved bicycle and walking path, which is much easier to walk now.

While there wasn't much to explore north of town on the main line, head south and you crossed the Mille Iles River into Laval Ouest and onwards toward the city of Montreal. Although crossing this train bridge on foot was illegal, many kids did it anyway because it was the shortest path across to the island of Laval. The next nearest bridge was a good 3 km further down the river and made you go very far out of your way. Crossing the train bridge was risky, because although you could predict the regular commuter train times (like any young kid would even bother checking), the freight trains were less predictable. So there were many tales of kids who got caught on that 300 metre (1000ft) span, having to drop down below the ties to escape being hit by the train. Or they had to try to get to the mid-span island (more on that in a minute). Ever tried running on tracks? You don't want to slip and fall when the river rages 100 feet below you. Adding to the fun and mystique of this bridge, about two thirds of the way across from our side there was a tiny island you could visit. Right next to that island was a much bigger island in the middle of the river which could be reached by walking across when the river was shallow, which was pretty much all summer. That island was the site for countless parties and other gatherings. I found myself on one or the other of those wooded islands quite often in the summer, as it was a great place to be alone with your thoughts (so long as no other kids had the same idea), or be one with nature and enjoy the cool river breeze in the heat of summer. I may have smoked my first cigarette there. It's not like anyone would see you.

Now (as seen in the picture) you can cross without the risk thanks to a control dam that was built across the river right beside the bridge which has a pedestrian crossing built in. I'm guessing the bigger island isn't hosting as many parties anymore with the police having much easier access courtesy of the dam.

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